5 Ways to Prepare for a Battle (lessons learned from military Special Operations)

SEAL in Surf

Hi All,

See this nice article published over at the Task & Purpose blog.  It’s a great article, detailing 5 mental preparation/performance tools, developed and used in military settings (specifically special operations), which any of us can use to address any challenge.  While developed in military Spec Ops circles, these same methods can and should be leveraged in any setting.  Read the article.

Here are the 5 items:

  1. Deep Breathing
  2. Slow, step-by-step, mental rehearsals (visualizing)
  3. Do the best you can for the next five minutes
  4. Put your mind on auto-pilot
  5. Act and look relaxed, even if you don’t feel it.

1. Deep Breathing: Everyone should know by now the relaxing and empowering potential of managing the breath.  Specifically, we can put to use a technique called by many names such as “tactical breathing,” “box breathing,” etc.  It consists of:

Inhale slowly through the nose, and deeply into the belly, for 4 seconds;

Gently hold that breath deeply in the belly for 4 seconds;

Exhale that breath slowly through the mouth for 4 seconds;

Gently pause, holding out that breath, for 4 seconds before resuming this 4-step cycle again. 

Repeat this 4-step breathing cycle, at least, X 4.

One can implement this breathing technique to slow blood loss when injured.  One can use it to calm down after a serious incident.  One can use it to get as calm and stable as possible when preparing for any challenging situation (e.g., having a difficult conversation with someone, giving a potentially stressful speech, getting ready to be interviewed for a job, etc.).

This powerful method is all about getting control of the breath, which then helps you to better control the brain, which then helps you to better control the physical body.

2. Slow, step-by-step, mental rehearsals.  Visualizing is exceptionally powerful.  The research is plentiful on it.  I am not going to reference all of it here.  Suffice it to say that, if professional athletes use it (and they do) as an integral part of athletic preparation and performance, the rest of us should be tapping into its power to prepare for success in absolutely any endeavor.  The mind is the most powerful tool (or weapon) we have.  This tactic seeks to enlist and train this most powerful tool.

Be a pro, and proactively train your mind to be your ally.  Left untrained, the mind can become quite the adversary.

3. Do the best you can for the next five minutes.  This tool, along with the next one (put your mind on auto-pilot) is all about collecting one’s awareness and focusing it very centrally on/in the present moment.  The mind has a tendency to spiral out of control if not tamed.  This tactic of focusing on doing the best one can just for the next five minutes takes control of the mind, erects some (helpful) blinders, and cajoles it look just at what is in front of one for the next five minutes.  This is a helpful tactic to cease excessive focus on unhelpful thoughts and fixation on the past or the future.  It addresses the monkey-mind which, if not addressed, will jump here and there, constantly, pulling one out of the present moment, making any performance less than desirable.

Just focus on the next five minutes.  Then the next five minutes.  Chunk it out like this until the task, no matter how grueling, is complete.

It’s not an hour.  It’s twelve five-minute chunks.  It’s not a day.  It’s twenty-four one-hour chunks.

Put it to use to navigate through a tough-ass day.  Use it for absolutely anything.

4. Put your mind on auto-pilot.  This tactic goes hand-in-hand with the previous one.  This is a method of staying in the present by essentially ignoring extraneous thoughts and getting out of your head (so to speak) by intensely focusing on doing what is immediately in need of doing.  It’s pulling one’s awareness out of the head and placing it in the physical environment.  It’s staying anchored in the senses, what one sees, hears, smells, and not getting pulled into unhelpful mental chatter.  It is nothing less than meditation in movement, and professionals in the military know this.

As with the other four tactics, put this to work in any endeavor where your performance needs to be that of a pro or where safety (of yourself and others) is at stake.

5. Act and look relaxed, even if you don’t feel it.  Many know that the mind affects the body.  Fewer people seem to know that this loop also includes the body affecting the mind.  Make yourself smile and it does have a positive impact on one’s mood.  I’m not suggesting smiling can, by itself, pull one out of depression.  It is, however, a powerful piece of the pull.  Neglecting this means you’ll under-prepare and potentially under-perform.

Here we see the value of acting and looking relaxed in challenging situations as a means by which we manage our own mindset, as well as influence those around us.  We’ve all seen the boardroom settings where someone’s hair catches on fire.  Their panicked expressions, words, tone of voice, etc., contribute to other heads catching on fire.  Hair-on-fire contributes to poorer performance, mistakes, and a shitty atmosphere.  That all contributes to a worse day than it needs to be.  We can, instead, manage our outer demeanor, work like hell to address whatever is facing us, and we’ll be more in control of ourselves and even helpful to others who are trying to remain in control of themselves.

We should seek to learn from absolutely anything and anywhere in life.  Here, let’s pick up valuable lessons from our professional military circles and culture and apply them to our life.

Life is a big mind-game.  Play it like a pro.


2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Prepare for a Battle (lessons learned from military Special Operations)

    1. Dear Sonya,

      Thank you for your visit!

      Yes! For some of the circles for which I write (i.e., law enforcement, public safety, etc.), there’s a great deal of material, drawn from meditative traditions, which is exceptionally helpful for conditions like PTSD, hypervigilance, awareness in dangerously intense environments, etc.

      All good wishes,



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